Pregnancy is a beautiful paradox. We can feel over-the-moon excitement while simultaneously losing our minds with worry. Evidently, the two can coexist.

Now that I’m expecting my second child, I know this to be particularly true. I’m so grateful to be pregnant again, but after a difficult first pregnancy, my anxieties have me checking in on every twitch, itch and all that’s in between. At times the euphoria I feel when I imagine meeting my baby girl is brutally overshadowed by a fear of repetition.

My first pregnancy was considered extremely high risk, so much so that at one stage it involved a conversation with a doctor who said I had a 1 in 3 chance that my son would survive. Miraculously, my gorgeous son defied the odds, but being pregnant again has exposed some residual trauma that I can’t completely shake. I’m perpetually on high alert, waiting for something to go wrong, like it so nearly did the first time.

Why my first pregnancy was so difficult

Trouble in my first pregnancy began as early as week 6 when I started bleeding due to a subchorionic hematoma. Severe, persistent bleeding would continue until I was 27 weeks, prompting a three-week hospital stay as well as daily anxiety that I was about to miscarry. 

Then, at my 20-week scan, I learned that my son was growing below the first percentile, where he would remain until some months after he was born. This pregnancy condition is known as fetal growth restriction (FGR), or intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), and carries with it all kinds of scary risks, including stillbirth and other complications. I remember being completely taken by surprise as a poker-faced specialist explained that this little-known, yet relatively common condition could be the reason I might not become a mother. I was mortified.

At 31+6 weeks my son was born, 8 weeks early, and he spent 5 weeks with the wizards in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Although he was born perfectly healthy, he needed some additional attention while the negative outcomes we had discussed during my pregnancy were ticked off the list one-by-one.

Pregnant again after a difficult pregnancy

This time around, my pregnancy appears to be much smoother. I haven’t experienced any threatened miscarriages or bleeding and my daughter’s growth is so far tracking comfortably along her curve. So why am I so afraid? Turns out I’m not alone: Nearly 20% to 25% of women experience anxiety at some stage of their pregnancy.

While I’m already so in love with this wriggly little bubby, the triggering realities of being pregnant for a second time remind me where I’ve been and where I could find myself again. Any variation of normal can catch a pregnant mama completely off guard—and I know how it feels to discover this when you’re already at your most vulnerable.

I’m bracing myself for everything to change as rapidly and unexpectedly as it did the first time.

I feel it when I go to the bathroom and hold my breath in case there’s a clot floating in the toilet bowl. Am I about to miscarry?

I feel it at my ultrasound appointments, trying desperately to read the sonographer’s face for clues of another bombshell. What aren’t you telling me?

I feel it when I preface every conversation about my pregnancy with ‘it’s still early days, but’ even though my full-term due date is in sight. Will I have to update you with bad news?

Appreciating the fragility of pregnancy

Pregnancy is unpredictable and for many of us the uncertainty between scans and leading up to delivery can be crippling, particularly if you’ve experienced a difficult pregnancy already.

Pregnancy isn’t always straightforward and that alone is terribly scary, but it’s also something we should normalize.

It’s part of the matrix that makes pregnancy unequivocally—and often surprisingly—hard, no matter what your pregnancy journey looks and feels like.

Comfortingly, and in spite of my triggers, I’m now more than half-way through my second pregnancy with no medical reason to question my daughter’s viability. But instead of relaxing into my pregnancy like I imagine many moms are able to do, I’m so hyper aware of the fragility of pregnancy that I can’t help but worry. Often I find myself wondering if it’s safe to properly enjoy carrying my daughter, when I am acutely aware of how close I came to losing my son.

I’m also mindful that many parents have experienced their own levels of trauma and heartache in their respective pregnancies. Some haven’t had the luxury of making it this far, so I’m conscious not to mitigate those experiences by sharing my own. And because of that—and on top of everything—there remains an element of guilt in worrying so much while knowing that at the moment I’m still very much one of the “lucky ones”.

The light at the end of this tunnel

Logic tries to reason with me that random medical anomalies are just that, random. That subchorionic hematomas and fetal growth restriction are rare enough to discount, especially when the evidence is looking so positive. In those fleeting moments I even dare to dream that actually this might—just might—be a normal, healthy pregnancy after all. 

I appreciate that you can’t take health for granted generally, and you certainly can’t assume an uncertain phenomenon like pregnancy will run a healthy course the entire way. As much as it scares me, I’ve learned to expect—and accept—the unexpected. There really isn’t anything you can do to steer a pregnancy beyond enjoying a balanced diet, resting well and looking after yourself generally. Everything else is down to the medical experts, and we need to trust them:They’re championing our babies almost as much as we are.

Where I find my strength after a difficult pregnancy

The buzz and the blur of postpartum is imminent and as I count down the weeks to delivery, I’m celebrating each week as a triumph. My baby girl is that much stronger and that much more resilient every day and underneath it all, so am I. Don’t get me wrong, anxiety still gets the better of me, but I know how important positivity, relaxation and resilience are in navigating each trimester. Like most moms, I’m trying to do my best and then some.

And if, as the signs suggest, my daughter is born healthy, I wonder how the excitement I feel in spite of my worries, will translate into my new reality in a few months. If I’m over-the-moon now, just how besotted will I be when she’s snuggled in my arms and my hero of a son leans over to kiss his sister’s forehead for the first time. That’s the possibility I’m choosing to chase, and it’s what keeps me going. What if things go wrong, but what if they go right? That’s where I find my strength.